“GINA” (the “Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act”) was signed into law on May 21, 2008 by President George Bush. It became effective a few days ago on November 21, 2009, at least with regard to its employment provisions (its health insurance provisions have been in place since May 21, 2009).
Employers need to know that GINA prohibits them from requiring genetic test information from job applicants. More importantly, and less obviously, the Act prohibits potential employers from seeking out and gathering information – even information in the public domain such as on the Internet – regarding job applicants. While inadvertent acquisition of genetic information regarding a job applicant is not a violation of the Act, employers do not want to get into a situation where they need to explain why they have gathered genetic/medical information about their employees.
The information about the employee’s close relatives can also be violative of GINA if that information is acquired for the purpose of learning about genetic health-related problems or conditions. A quick Google search of a potential employee’s name can sometimes produce such information, whether be in the form of a Facebook entry, an obituary, or other seemingly benign sources. The EEOC, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Labor, the Department of Treasury, and similar state agencies will all have a hand in enforcing GINA. Like HIPPA, GINA is easy to violate if an employer is unaware of its requirements. Employers should seek guidance in updating their internal employment procedures and policies to avoid an expensive GINA violation.